(Re)programming anonymity

Politics of (Non)Knowledge in the Context of Neighborhood Networks

We live in a time when data is networked as ‚neighborhoods' in the name of personalization, which creates complex conditions for the production of anonymity. For example, neighborhood platforms in social media create networks of hybrid offline and online information based on small-scale local areas and groups of people, resulting in machine-readable user profiles owned by private technology companies. These developments lead to a "problematization" of the question of how anonymity can or should be defined, regulated, and produced under contemporary media technological conditions.

To understand anonymity and the socio-political challenges we face today in relation to information governance issues, the project combines a historical perspective on the relationship of anonymity, neighborhood, and technology development with ethnographic research at the production level - where this relationship is being reconfigured by software developers, UX designers, data scientists, and marketers. Participatory observation in the field of the digital economy with actors developing neighborhood platforms for marketing purposes raises questions around socio-spatial networks and their historical, political, and cultural relationship to anonymity.

Capturing the tensions between social media and anonymity, data analysis, and information politics offers critical access to current power relations, (non)knowledge, and questions of subjectivity, inclusion, and exclusion in digital cultures. The project aims to show that we are currently witnessing a complex transformation of the notion and practice of anonymity, rather than subscribing to the general diagnosis of an "end of anonymity." The overall outcome of this project will be a theoretical framework of the transformation of anonymity based on new empirical findings, with a particular focus on social media, more specifically on neighborhood platforms and data profiling techniques based on so-called data-neighboring.


  • Randi Heinrichs